Former Eagle food columnist dies at 76

05/10/2010 12:00 AM

05/10/2010 10:09 AM

For four decades, Kathleen Kelly's columns were among the most read in The Wichita Eagle.

As the paper's home economics and food writer, she offered readers not only tasty and sophisticated recipes, but also occasional glimpses of her life first as a young wife and mother, then as a widow and single mom.

Ms. Kelly, 76, died in her sleep Sunday in Houston.

Her son, Kelly Humphries, a senior public affairs specialist for the Johnson Space Center in Houston, wrote in an e-mail to his mother's longtime friends that a funeral would be scheduled in Newton sometime next month.

Kathleen Kelly was born July 14, 1933, in Manhattan. She lived much of her life in Wichita and Harvey County.

She earned her degree in home economics and journalism from Kansas State University and did graduate work in foods and nutrition.

She started working at The Wichita Eagle-Beacon as a summer intern in 1953 and was hired full time in 1955.

She worked until her retirement in 1995 and was considered an icon in Kansas journalism. She was sought after for public speaking engagements, always sporting fashionable hats at public appearances.

Jack Kellogg, owner of Hatman Jack's and a longtime friend of Ms. Kelly, called her an "exuberant spirit."

"She just always seemed like your neighbor. She was so down to earth," he said.

Eagle co-workers recalled Ms. Kelly's expertise.

"She was looked at as the consummate hostess," said Fran Kentling, former assistant lifestyles editor and administrative editor for The Eagle. "She brought a lot of culture to the Plains."

Ms. Kelly's two columns, Kitchen Kibitzing and Armchair Shopper, became regular features of the paper's LifeStyle pages. She also conducted the paper's annual Favorite Recipe Contest and supervised production of the Holiday Cookbook.

She made trips to Europe and Southeast Asia on assignment for The Eagle-Beacon and attended cooking demonstrations at the famous LaVarenne and Cordon Bleu cooking schools in Paris, and spent five days in the south of France cooking with Simone Beck, Julia Child's co-author for "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

She studied Chinese cooking in Hong Kong and Thai cooking in Bangkok.

In turn, she brought those recipes to her Kansas readers.

On July 4, 1960, a single-engine plane carrying her husband, Gary, and other Eagle reporters and editors crashed near a runway in Shattuck, Okla., killing all aboard. They were on their way home from covering Olympic track trials in California.

At age 26, Ms. Kelly became a widow and the single working mother of a 3-year-old boy.

She wrote about that.

When she left the Eagle in 1994, she told readers that over four decades they had laughed and cried together:

"We've broken bread, harvested persimmons, licked bowls, stuffed sausage, tied comforters. ... We've explored whipped cream and chocolate, organ meats and oat bran, with equal abandon. ... We've traveled the world and, best of all, we've gotten into the nooks and crannies of Kansas."

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